Archive for the ‘electrical’ category

Infrared Quartz Heaters

February 12th, 2013


What are your feelings about infrared quartz heaters? Which brands have you tested? I have one and it seems to provide all the energy representations made. Is it true that this technology was developed for the space station and utilized in the space shuttles?



I have never tested any of the electrical heaters or quartz heaters and can’t comment on any specific brand. But wow, there seems to be a lot of marketing for electrical space heaters these days. I am an engineer who studied some of that thermodynamics and heat transfer stuff in college. If the claims are too good to be true, they are not true.

The fact is, you can’t create or destroy energy; you can just change it from one form to another. Electricity has just so many BTUs per kilowatt hour. You can convert electricity to heat with a cheap electrical resistance heater, a light bulb, or an electrical burner on the stove with the same result and always the same amount of energy.

Because we are all trying to save energy and money, all the marketing for the new space age or high tech electrical heaters sounds great; and we want it to work. But it can’t defy the laws of physics. Any type electrical heater will provide the same amount of energy for the amount of electricity used.


Outlets on One Side of Room Don’t Work

February 11th, 2013


Last night I was watching TV, and part of the receptacles on one side of the room went dead. The other side is okay. I checked the receptacles that weren’t working; no wires were burnt. What could the problem be?



E002 - Electrical Main Circuit Breaker PanelFirst check the circuit feeding the electrical outlets on the side of the room without power. Is a breaker tripped or fuse blown? If there are no breaker problems, you should call an electrician. He can remove the main panel cover and start tracing down the issue. He would start at the dead outlets and in the main panel and look to see where the current flow stops. If it is not a breaker or fuse, it will be a loose connection between the panel and the circuit, or on one of the receptacles. You could lose a series of outlets with one loose connection on one outlet.


Furnace fan, to distribute heat throughout the house?

January 31st, 2013


I have a two-story house with a basement, built in 1952. Is it a good idea to turn the furnace fan on, to distribute the heat throughout the house?

– Marian


H014 - Warm Air Furnace Fan and MotorYes and no. If you have a problem with a cool area when heating or a warm area when running the air conditioning, operating the fan continuously will even out the temperatures in your home. The downside is this will cost electrical energy to run the fan and cause some wear and tear on the fan. However, you can run a fan on a newer, high efficiency forced air furnace with an ECM or variable speed motor for little cost – about 1/10 the cost of a typical fan motor. Finally, I think your first step is to have a contractor inspect and adjust your system. At times, duct dampers can be adjusted to correct cold spots and air flow problems. Often you need to make a spring and fall damper adjustment for a two story home.

– Mr. Fix-It

Water Heater Turning Off Each Morning

September 22nd, 2010


Recently my hot water heater started turning off each morning. I’ve been hitting the “reset” button, and it goes back on and works just fine. However, this has occurred about three times over the past week. It’s not a particularly old water heater, and we don’t use enough electricity to trip the box. What might be causing this problem?


I assume you are resetting the overload button on an electric water heater. You either have a heating element problem, thermostat problem, overheating, or an overload problem. I suggest you contact a plumber or electrician before you are out of luck and have no hot water. In general, you should not reset an overload more than two times if you don’t know the actual problem causing the trip.

Saving Energy With Fluorescent Lighting

June 29th, 2010


I am trying to find some info regarding the power usage of fluorescent ballasts. I was told that it takes more electricity to energize a ballast initially than to run the light for a few hours. I don’t know if that’s true with the new rapid-start/electronic ballasts. Is it going to save any energy to turn off office lights for an hour, then turn them back on?


Great question! Most folks don’t realize all the modern changes in fluorescent lighting. The ballasts are now electronic and this dramatically changes performance and efficiency. Remember the days of the old “starters” (the little aluminum can inside the fixture)? Modern fluorescents have a starter built into the ballast. The ballast is used to energize the lamp and start the flow of electrons.

In studies I have read, you should always turn off the lights when they are not needed, even if only for a few minutes. The calculations show that the energy used to start the lamp is saved in a few minutes of operation. The on-off cycles really do not affect the life of the newer florescent lighting. Sometime a “few minutes” can turn into a few hours, so always turn the lights off.

GFCI What?

February 24th, 2010

On a GFCI outlet, is the imbalance of electrical current coming from the ground conductor and the neutral conductor, or is it read from the hot and neutral conductor? Will a GFCI outlet work on a two-wire only electrical system in a house?


A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) detects an imbalance in electrical flow between the hot and neutral wire. A slight leakage will trip the GFCI and protect you from a shock. The electrical leak may be flowing through your body!

A GFCI outlet will work on a two-wire hot and neutral system with no ground. In operation, it measures between the hot and neutral wire. Without a ground, a GFCI tester will tell you it has no ground but the GFCI will work. This type of installation should have a sticker that says no equipment ground.

A GFCI tester uses a current test that leaks current to the ground wire and causes the device to trip. When there is no ground, the tester will read no ground and will not work. This may be the confusing part of a GFCI and GFCI tester.

Clothes Dryer Will Not Dry

February 8th, 2010


We have an electric dryer and our issue is excessive drying time due to 100 feet of elbows and 4-inch vent ductwork. The contractor who installed our radon system told us to install a booster fan, but the HVAC contractor told us to shorten the dryer duct and add 6-inch vent ductwork instead. This would result in a total of 23 vs 100 feet. What should we do?


I like the idea of shortening the dryer vent duct and limiting bends. Increasing the size will also help if the connector through the wall is 6-inches. Make sure to use rigid, smooth duct and connections.

Adding a booster fan should be the last resort solution – it is just one more thing to maintain.

Drain the Water Heater for Winter

January 6th, 2010


When I drain my electric water heater for the winter, does all the water come out, or is there still some at the bottom? If so, is it ok if it freezes?



A little water will remain in the water heater, which is fine. It may freeze, but will not cause a problem.

Freezing water is a problem because of the pressure it creates when the water expands as it freezes. If the freezing water is in a sealed system or pipe, it will burst the pipe or push open the joints.

The water heater is not sealed so there should be no problem. I would leave the drain valve open over the winter.